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Congress Preserves Trail Funding in Transportation Package

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Jun 29, 2012 10:40 AM |
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The epic federal transportation package that just passed the U.S. Senate and will be taken up by the U.S. House Friday contains the Recreation Trails Program (RTP), a small program that helps fund Washington Trails Association's volunteer trail maintenance program. RTP inclusion had been in question as recently as last week.

Update June 29, 2012, 1:05 PM: The Senate voted to pass the House-approved transportation budget 74-19.

A new federal transportation budget is right now being approved by Congress. Today the U.S. House approved a multi-billion dollar package, voting 373-52 in favor, and the Senate is expected to follow suit on Saturday. This budget had been at a stalemate for three years - funded through a series of continuing resolutions - as lawmakers were unable to come up with an agreed upon compromise until this week.

Why does this matter to hikers? A small program deep within the transportation budget called the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) funds off-highway recreation and trail projects throughout the country. On Thursday, we received news that the compromise bill contains Recreational Trails Program (RTP) funding.

As decision-makers have debated the transportation bill, RTP has consistently been in jeopardy of being left out of the transportation package. We have detailed its saga in this blog and in Washington Trails magazine over the past three years, asking you to weigh in on behalf of this program that helps fund about 20 percent of WTA's trail maintenance program.

As recently as last week, we had heard that RTP was out of the bill and asked you to call your senators and congressperson to ask that it be included. Washington state's delegation member on the House Conference, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), really went to the mat for RTP. Hikers in Washington State are in her debt. We'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell for their work on the Senate side. Although they were not on the conference, they are both strong RTP supporters and made their voices heard with Senate transportation leadership. Finally, thank you to everyone who contacted their Members of Congress to advocate for RTP. Your support was essential!

The compromise proposal is not perfect, but it is quite good. Governors have the discretion to use RTP dollars for highway projects rather than trails if they notify the Secretary of Transportation within 30 days of fund distribution. That means that WTA and other recreation advocates will have to work with our incoming governor to show the value of outdoor recreation to Washington State.

Even with that caveat, the fact that RTP is dedicated in the transportation budget is great news. Tonight, I suggest you make a small toast with your beverage of choice, and thank Congress for doing right by hikers and Washington State's quality of life.